It's a hard world, pro sports. There are regular examinations, publicly scored, manifestly unfair tests which fall as often to fate as to any less fickle decider. There is a desperately squalid business side, reptilian intelligences extracting monetary tribute from the passion of the masses.
But this is the deal. It's a hard world. And in this hard world, our Fire are relegation fodder. Virtually anywhere else on the globe our Chicago Fire would be favorites for the drop - coherent but understaffed, a tough matchup but not a frightening one, Wigan under Martinez divided by 10, rounded up.
We're shielded the indignity of regular-season matchups against Rochester and Pittsburgh by FIFA's decision to rubber-stamp a franchise model for MLS. So tonight's matchup against Toronto loses some of its desperation - but it should lose none of its import. Does promotion and relegation serve to make every game matter? We don't know. What we do know is that the other side of the argument stresses playoff places as taking the place of that bit of hard-edged motivation.
The Fire are only five points back of fifth-place New York, with two games in hand. Two wins puts CF97 in the playoff places. We're not far out of it; but relegation is a different motivation - desperation, not hope.
Let's watch closely tonight to see which force wields a sharper lash: Fear or joy?